Instant Runoff & Ranked Choice Voting
What is Ranked Choice Voting
Ranked choice voting (RCV) describes voting systems that allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates able to combine strong first choice support with the ability to earn second and third choice support.
Note: Ranked choice voting is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of electoral systems, including instant runoff voting and choice voting. For clarity on terminology, please visit our Glossary page.
Ranked Choice Voting:
- Gives voters the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidate.
- Empowers voters with more meaningful choice.
- Minimizes strategic voting.
- Creates a positive atmosphere where candidates campaign to the voters rather than against each other.
By maximizing the power of voters and choice among candidates, ranked choice voting creates a more representative democracy. Click here for more information on RCV, also see our report on how RCV fosters civility in cities.
How Ranked Choice Voting Works in Single-Winner and Multi-Winner Elections
Instant Runoff Voting and Fair Representation Systems
Whether being used to elect a single winner (like for mayor or governor) or to elect multiple winners (like a city council or state legislators in a multi-seat district), ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference and then uses those rankings to elect candidates with broad support. In either case, every voter has exactly one vote, and the rankings determine which candidates that one vote will count for in each round of counting.
Single Seat Ranked Choice Voting (Instant Runoff Voting)
In a single seat ranked choice voting election, sometimes called instant runoff voting, votes are first distributed by first choices. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.
Resources on Instant Runoff Voting
- What is IRV? Main Page
- How Instant Runoff Voting Works
- A Voting Method Primer from Accurate Democracy
- Where is Instant Runoff Voting Used?
- Who Supports Instant Runoff Voting?
Multi-Seat Ranked Choice Voting Elections (Fair Representation Voting)
Ranked choice voting for multi-seat elections is a form of fair-representation voting. This means candidates who receive a certain share of votes will be elected; this share of votes is called the threshold. A candidate who reaches the threshold is elected, and any excess votes over the threshold are then counted for the voters’ second choices. Then, after excess votes are redistributed, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes counted for their second choice. This process continues until all seats are filled.
Choice Voting: An American Form of Proportional Representation
Choice voting refers to the used of ranked choice voting in multi-seat elections. It is an American, candidate-based form of proportional representation that allows like-minded voters to elect candidates in proportion to their share of the vote in multi-member constituencies. Through choice voting, like-minded groupings of voters win legislative seats in better proportion to their share of the population. Whereas winner-take-all elections award 100% of power to a 50.1% majority, choice voting allows voters in a minority to win a fair share of representation.
Top Four Elections: A Better Alternative to the Jungle Primary
The "Top Two" system has gained attention as a means of addressing political issues through election reform. Unfortunately, Top Two severely limits voter choice, and evidence suggests that it does not accomplish its stated goals well. For states using or considering Top Two, FairVote recommends a ranked choice alternative: Top Four. Simply advance four candidates instead of two, and conduct the general election by ranked choice voting!
Click here to read more about Top Four.